Saturday, July 28, 2012

Stepping Up My Game

Title taken from a Zen saying:
Before Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.
I'd like to think it goes with the 'do the work' sentiment that the linked article discusses.

If you are a writer and you don't follow "Writer Unboxed," do not wait. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Go follow them now. Day in and day out, they post thought provoking, moving, and information-rich content for writers. (Full disclosure--I have guest blogged for them.)

Today's post by Porter Anderson hit me square between the eyes. "Social Media: Your Shadow Career?" put into words something that I've been struggling with for some time now. I *know* that a social media presence is essential for today's writer. I *know* that building a platform is crucial for the elusive discovery--how to have your novels pop out from the sea of books published and self-published every day. I *know* that building relationships across multiple social networks is the important, as the circles of twitter, g+, FB, and pinterest (to name a few) users have some but not full overlap.

So I maintain various degrees of active presence on Twitter, G+, FB, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Tumblr. I also blog regularly and comment frequently on blogs I follow.

It's work. I'm fairly good at it--have built up some lovely relationships and have learned an enormous amount about the business of publishing in the process.

But is it *the* work I need to be doing?  Or is it my shadow career?

If I am honest with myself, I can admit that I fritter away hours a day interacting on social media sites. There is something seductive and addictive about looking for that notification icon that tells me I've been RT'ed, or mentioned, re-blogged, emailed, commented. It's almost worse if I check and there's nothing, because then I keep refreshing looking for the next hit.

If this sounds like a gambler feeding coins into a slot machine over and over again, after losing, well, it is.

I've never been a gambler and I don't have any kind of craving for drugs or alcohol, so I always had a secret sense of superiority about my 'lack of an addictive personality.'  Guess what? That's bullshit. I just hadn't found my personal 'crack.'

It's social media.

And the near-obsessive need to monitor it is something I need to work on.

Now, it's not as if I don't write. I've managed to write a book a year for the past 7+ years, working steadily and slowly with daily and weekly wordcount goals. I'm even on track to write the first draft of my latest in approx 4 months.

But here's the thing. I'm spending far many more hours a day with social media than I am actually writing. And that's backwards.

I can absolutely step up my game and write more, edit more, spend more time on craft than on platform. I've known for some time that I also need to spend time every day caring for my physical well being, meaning scheduled exercise. The dangerous byproduct of social media is that I sit for vast stretches each day. Both in the short run and the long run, this is a harmful practice.

To those who say that a writer needs to focus on platform in order to market books, I answer, yes, but. . . And here's why.

I've done all the right things to support my debut YA title, THE BETWEEN. I generated buzz before the launch on social media, I solicited and obtained reviews, did guest blogging, giveaways, interviews, contests. And it has generated some sales.

I also have a poetry collection (CHOP WOOD, CARRY WATER)  available at B&N and iTunes. I didn't actually place them for sale. That was accidental. Nearly 3 years ago, I put this collection together as a physical chapbook and eBook through Lulu press, essentially as gifts for family members. It was also for sale at the insistence of my online poetry community and sold a handful of copies. Well, sometime a year ago or so, Lulu must have sent out an email letting folks know they were adding digital copies to online booksellers, unless you opted out.

I never got that email.

I don't market the collection. I barely mention it, other than it exists as a link on the right hand blog sidebar. I never asked for a single review. I don't do contests, giveaways, or interviews about it.

And month in, month out, it sells a few copies.

I actually earn royalties on a book I never intended to sell.

Sure, THE BETWEEN sells more copies and earns more money than the poetry collection, but not anywhere near to difference I would expect given the difference in promotional efforts between them.

So this is what I think:

  • Be active on social media at least a little bit because it's important as an author to have a public presence
  • Moderate your activity and make sure it doesn't interfere with what you are building your platform *for*
  • Stay as involved as you feel it's enjoyable and supports your work, not simply because it becomes your work
  • Be honest with yourself, especially if you see evidence of growing addiction (and no, I don't use that term lightly)
  • Find ways to look inside and nurture yourself. Everything I've read in the research literature speaks of the need for solitude and silence as part of the creative process

Anything to add? 


  1. Great advice, Lj, thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Candie. The flip side of social media is getting to meet folks like you. :)

  2. Excellent post. I'd add that if you don't care for social media (or if you're like me and don't have the means, time or the personality to handle its demands) don't try and force yourself to join in. Being dragged into something that for whatever reason is unpleasant to you is only going to have a negative effect on you and your creativity. Or, in simpler terms, always do what you love, not what you feel obligated to do.

    1. Yes. This, Lynn. "Always do what you love."

      At least in terms of creativity--once you get the basics down--food, shelter, clothing, the rest must feel the soul.